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Kevin Warwick

From Academic Kids

Professor Kevin Warwick is a cybernetics professor at the University of Reading, England. He is probably most well-known for his studies on direct interfaces between computer systems and the human nervous system, although he has also done much research in the field of robotics.

Contents

Project Cyborg

Probably the most famous piece of research undertaken by Professor Warwick (aka "Captain Cyborg") is the set of experiments known as Project Cyborg, in which he had a chip implanted into his arm, with the aim of "becoming a cyborg".

The first stage of this research, which began on August 24, 1998, involved a simple transmitter being implanted beneath Professor Warwick's skin, and used to control doors, lights, heaters, and other computer-controlled devices based on his proximity. The main purpose of this experiment was to test the limits of what the body would accept, and how easy it would be to receive a meaningful signal from the chip.

The second stage involved a far more complex chip which was implanted on March 14, 2002, and which interfaced directly into Professor Warwick's nervous system. The electrode array inserted contained around 100 electrodes, of which 25 could be accessed at any one time, whereas the median nerve which it monitored carries many times that number of signals. However, the experiment proved successful, and the signal produced was detailed enough that a robot arm developed by Warwick's colleague, Dr Peter Kyberd, was able to mimic the actions of Professor Warwick's own arm.

A highly publicised extension to the experiment, in which a simpler array was implanted into Professor Warwick's wife - with the aim of creating some form of telepathy or empathy - was also moderately successful, although the implant seems to have been less successful at stimulating signals than at measuring them. Finally, the effect of the implant on Professor Warwick's hand function was measured using the Southampton Hand Assessment Procedure (SHAP). It was feared that directly interfacing with the nervous system might cause some form of damage or interference, but no measurable effect was found.

Implications and criticisms

Professor Warwick and his colleagues claim that the Project Cyborg research could lead to new medical tools for treating patients with damage to the nervous system, as well opening the way for the more ambitious "enhancements" Professor Warwick advocates. Critics, however, suggest that the experiment was little more than a publicity stunt.

An additional controversy arose in August 2002, shortly after the Soham murders , when Professor Warwick reportedly offered to implant a tracking device into an 11-year-old girl as an anti-abduction measure. The plan produced a mixed reaction, including ethical concerns from a number of children's societies, with support from many concerned parents. As a result, the idea did not go ahead, and it is not clear to what extent it was hype, speculation, or a genuine proposal.

Anti-abduction Global-positioning-system (GPS) chips are common in jewelry or clothing in some Latin American countries due to a high abduction rate,[1] (http://www.dailystar.com/dailystar/news/30069.php) and the company Verichip announced plans in 2001 to expand a line of its medical-information implants,[2] (http://www.verichip.com.my/index-2.html) which are already in use, to be GPS trackable.[3] (http://www.wired.com/news/business/0,1367,50004,00.html)[4] (http://www.wired.com/news/technology/0,1282,50435,00.html) [5] (http://www.adsx.com/news/2002/021402.html) [6] (http://www.miami.com/mld/miamiherald/2828025.htm)

Personal opinions

Professor Warwick is known for taking every opportunity to publicise his work, and often appears on radio and TV interviews. He also has very outspoken views on the future, particularly with respect to artificial intelligence and its impact on the human race: he is a proponent of the strong AI view that machines will eventually become at least as intelligent as human beings, and argues that we will need to use technology to enhance ourselves in order to avoid being overtaken. He also points out that there are many limits, such as our sensorimotor abilities, that we can overcome with machines, and is on record as saying that he wants to gain these abilities: "There is no way I want to stay a mere human."

His tendency to court the media has led Warwick's critics to view his ideas with extreme skepticism, often dismissing them out of hand and accusing him of concentrating on publicity at the cost of serious research. Some refer to him as Captain Cyborg - a name probably created by The Register, who have published particularly personal criticisms of his work - and there was at one time an entire website, called Kevin Warwick Watch, devoted to collecting and criticising his activities.

Other activities

As well as the Project Cyborg work, Professor Warwick has been involved in several of the major robotics developments within the Cybernetics Department at Reading. These include the "seven dwarves", a version of which was given away in kit form as Cybot on the cover of Real Robots Magazine.

He also presented the Royal Institution Christmas Lectures in 2000 on the theme of robots, using examples from research at Reading and at other British universities. His selection reportedly sparked letters of complaint to the head of the Royal Institution, Susan Greenfield, from other prominent AI researchers.

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